How do radiation and a gravity-free environment affect plant growth? How do we keep the plants free of microbes? How does fresh food affect astronaut morale? At Popular Science, Sarah Scoles writes about how learning to grow food in space is a critical milestone to furthering space exploration, because astronauts simply can’t haul all the food they’ll need to thrive during long absences from Earth.

On August 9, (Commander Scott) Kelly snapped a picture, standing in front of the unfurling greens. His brow was furrowed, faux serious. “­Tomorrow we’ll eat the anticipated veggie harvest on @space_station!” he tweeted. “But first, lettuce take a #selfie.” Soon he crunched the harvest live on NASA TV. It might seem like no big deal, but a single leaf can make a big difference to someone who’s been eating rehydrated fare for months. During a later harvest, astronaut Peggy Whitson would use them to…

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